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Not aggressive, not passive
Aggressive behaviour is usually destructive and harmful. It employs emotionally unpleasant methods and often bullying. Underlying aggression is fear and anger.
Aggression is forceful and abrasive - it demands action, obedience, submission. It expects other people to comply with your wishes.
Passive conduct is the opposite of aggression. It is submissive and mild. There can be a certain quality of apathy within passivity, a giving-in.
Assertiveness is neither aggressive nor passive. It is an alternative to both.
Standing-up for yourself
Assertion is not bullying, domination or abuse. It is about seeking to avoid being manipulated and forced by others.
Assertiveness involves standing-up for yourself. Being willing to say "Yes" or "No" without fear.
You say what you want to say without being frightened by the consequences. You recognise the risk and have the courage to proceed anyway.
Being shy, doubtful, hesitant and scared will hamper you in life. Much of what you fear will never come to pass. Most fears are just harmful speculations.
Having confidence in yourself is the necessary first step. If you do not trust yourself and believe yourself to have worth, other people may also doubt you.
Assertiveness is about accepting who you are. You are human, individual, feeling, flawed, vulnerable and real.
It is perfectly acceptable to make mistakes, to change your mind, to say you don't know, to judge things for yourself. Approval from others is not the priority.
Not everyone will like you. That is their concern, not yours.
The real you
Accepting yourself is also important. Once you feel comfortable with who you are, you become more comfortable with the idea of standing-up for yourself.
Being honest is a difficult thing for some people, but unavoidable if you are seeking to assert. Admitting your mistakes, owning-up to things, taking responsibility - these cannot be ignored.
You may find that your honesty reveals things about yourself that you do not like. This is useful. Observe yourself without judgement, without condemnation. Watch, learn, listen.
Unlike aggression, assertiveness involves respect. You do not push onwards without consideration or care. You recognise that your own wants, needs, ideas or perspective may not be shared by others.
Assertiveness aims to address situations without resorting to emotions, without becoming abusive. Your aim is to extricate yourself without bad feeling.
If you are comfortable being assertive, you can communicate in a non-violent way. You can gently, politely accept what you want to accept, and refuse whatever you feel is disagreeable.
There is no need for animosity.
Every situation you encounter in life may be comprised of known factors and potential unknowns.
A skilful communicator weighs the various variables in every situation, and listens carefully to what is being said.
They pay attention to the flow of the discourse and feel at ease changing whenever the moment calls for it.
The ability to adapt, change and improvise requires confidence. You must trust yourself. You must step forward regardless of your fears.
Assertiveness is not force. It is not about having a one-track mind. There is no need to be rigid or limited. You can possess intent, yet still be comfortable adapting to the ongoing circumstances around you.
A willingness to bend, to yield, to change is essential.
If you cannot assert, you cannot reasonably defend yourself in combat. The fearful person is afraid to commit to a course of action. Their dithering uncertainty freezes them, crippling the ability to act.
To defend yourself, you must say "No". And you must do whatever you feel is appropriate in order to fulfil your assertion.
We work very closely with our students in order to build up their confidence. The training is tailored to take into account the strengths and weaknesses of each individual.
Humour, quirkiness and unorthodox approaches are employed to encourage students to shed their inhibitions and let-go.
If your actions are not thorough and convincing, your assailant will not be concerned by what you do. It is necessary to have shen, to be focussed and present.
If you lack conviction, you will dither and doubt yourself.
Do or do not.
There is no try.
If you can assert yourself in combat training, you can take those skills into other areas of your life. Being capable of saying "No" to your partner or your boss may prove useful.
Relationships inevitably have problems. This is to be expected. With assertiveness you can take note of any manipulation and refuse to participate.
You can side-step emotional blackmail and game-playing.
Not every partner resents assertiveness. Many people respect it and find that they can trust and rely upon their spouse to a greater extent.
In business, assertiveness can indicate competence. If you wanted to manage an office, organise a project or perform a job, assertiveness is vital.
Doubt, fear and uncertainty undermine your own position. People feel that they cannot trust or rely upon you.
Assertiveness suggests self-reliance, self-confidence, the ability to negotiate, speak clearly and honestly. People feel safe with you when you exude calmness, organisation, fairness and positive feeling.
People are assessed and judged by how they look, by how they dress, by how they carry themselves.
Consider: you enter a bank dressed in a business suit, looking clean and fresh. You speak politely, but you are firm.
On another occasion you enter the same bank wearing a scruffy, dirty outfit, and you mumble. If you contrast the quality of service you received on both occasions, you may find that they differed.
Aesthetics are simply surface concerns, but people do make snap judgements based upon very little information. They may call it intuition, but often decisions are guided by opinion, bias, expectations.
Dressing assertively is mainly about dressing in accord with how you feel, and then taking into account the situation. Wearing an outfit that indicates confidence, focus and humility is important.
People are going to judge you by how you seem.
Fantasies are an ideal way for a shy person to cultivate assertiveness. They can visualise situations in a new light, and explore options, choices and possibilities.
There is no risk, and it can build confidence.
In a fantasy, you are in charge. You decide what takes place. You are in total control. Everything is done to please you.
How does that feel? Would you like to experience that emotion in everyday life?
People who lack assertiveness are accustomed to feeling like they have no control. Harmless daydreams can subvert your helplessness and aid you in restoring balance.
A person who is assertive often demonstrates confidence and composure in the face of adversity. Instead of becoming emotionally unstable, they exude a quiet calm.
They possess an attitude of positive equanimity.
The danger with aggression is that is provokes hostility and negativity. Passivity can be equally problematic because it lacks focus and direction.
Assertiveness enables you to remain in control of yourself, and to determine just how far you are willing to go.
18 April 1995
Last updated 17 September 2019